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Aondover Tarhule and Peter J. Lamb

Beginning in response to the disastrous drought of 1968–73, considerable research and monitoring have focused on the characteristics, causes, predictability, and impacts of West African Soudano–Sahel (10°–18°N) rainfall variability and drought. While these efforts have generated substantial information on a range of these topics, very little is known of the extent to which communities, activities at risk, and policy makers are aware of, have access to, or use such information. This situation has prevailed despite Glantz's provocative BAMS paper on the use and value of seasonal forecasts for the Sahel more than a quarter century ago. We now provide a systematic reevaluation of these issues based on questionnaire responses of 566 participants (in 13 communities) and 26 organizations in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. The results reveal that rural inhabitants have limited access to climate information, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) being the most important source. Moreover, the pathways for information flow are generally weakly connected and informal. As a result, utilization of the results of climate research is very low to nonexistent, even by organizations responsible for managing the effects of climate variability. Similarly, few people have access to seasonal climate forecasts, although the vast majority expressed a willingness to use such information when it becomes available. Those respondents with access expressed great enthusiasm and satisfaction with seasonal forecasts. The results suggest that inhabitants of the Soudano–Sahel savanna are keen for changes that improve their ability to cope with climate variability, but the lack of information on alternative courses of action is a major constraint. Our study, thus, essentially leaves unchanged both Glantz's negative “tentative conclusion” and more positive “preliminary assessment” of 25 years ago. Specifically, while many of the infrastructural deficiencies and socioeconomic impediments remain, the great yearning for climate information by Soudano–Sahalians suggests that the time is finally ripe for fostering increased use. Therefore, a simple model for improved dissemination of climate research and seasonal climate forecast information is proposed. The tragedy is that a quarter century has passed since Glantz's clarion call.

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A Prototype GIS for Rainfall Monitoring in West Africa

Aondover Tarhule, Zakari Saley-Bana, and Peter J. Lamb

This paper describes Rainwatch, a stand-alone, prototype Geographic Information System (GIS) application that automates and streamlines key aspects of rainfall data management, processing, and visualization for West Africa. Rainwatch is an interactive Map Objects Visual Basic application that permits the tracking of critical rainfall attributes beneficial to farmers. Using the simple-to-understand concept of cumulative rainfall plots, the program allows users to compare rainfall for any year against six percentile thresholds for a historical reference period (1965-2000). These thresholds separate dry, normal, and wet conditions. Users also can compare rainfall data between stations for a given season or between seasons for a particular station, and spatially interpolate rainfall for a single event, defined period, or an entire season. The system is dynamic and automatically updates all charts and tables as new data are added to the database. Thus, for this poor and drought-prone region, Rainwatch can help reduce delay in rainfall data processing, facilitate communication between data collection agencies, and generally make rainfall data more accessible and meaningful.

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